The American grandmaster once again had to do it in a playoff

Hikaru Nakamura evidently feels right at home in Gibraltar. Thursday, the American grandmaster won his third straight Tradewise Gibraltar Masters title by first beating Yu Yangyi of China and then David Antno Guijarro of Spain in a playoff. 

All three players finished regulation tied at eight points

Gujjaro had led going into the final round, but he faced Michael Adams of England, who out-rated him by 100 points. Guijarro managed to draw, but that allowed Nakamura and Yu to catch up when they beat Romain Edouard of France Ju Wenjun of China, respectively.

As fascinating as those games were, the biggest news of the last day surrounded Hou Yifan of China, the Women’s World Champion. Hou was angry about her pairings earlier in the tournament. She had played seven women in the first nine rounds, which she thought was unlikely and not fair. She also thought that some other players had had unfair pairing advantages. After complaining to the tournament organizers and being disastified with their answers, she found a very unusual way to lodge her disappointment — she tanked her game in the last round against Babu Lalith of India:

Hou, Yifan vs. Lalith, Babu M R
Gibraltar Masters 2017 | Caleta ENG | Round 10.17 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: A00 | 0-1
1. g4 d5 2. f3 e5 3. d3 Qh4+ 4. Kd2 h5 5. h3 hxg4

I’m a little disappointed that Black did not play 1…e5. On a more serious note, as a spectator, I find such irreverent boldness refreshing. Here was her explanation about what she did in an interview afterward:

Returning to the drama on the chessboard, Guijarro, like Nakamura, has had a fair amount of success at Gibraltar. Indeed, last year he had an excellent run and would have won, except for a final round loss to Nakamura. This year, he again played tremendously, including stylish victory in the penultimate round against Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, the former World Champion.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anton Guijarro, David
Gibraltar Masters 2017 | Caleta ENG | Round 9.2 | 01 Feb 2017 | ECO: C96 | 0-1
Ng6 White doesn't seem to be doing too badly, but it is hard to come up with any good plans. Topalov was perhaps hoping for some exchanges leading to a quiet draw. But the game continued:
30. Qg3?! But after
30... Qf6! White had to make some hard choices about how to defend the pawn on c3.
31. Nf5 Choosing piece activity instead of a passive move like Nd1, but now White becomes saddled with a bad bishop.
31... Bxf5! 32. exf5 Ne5 A classic good knight vs bad bishop position. Guijarro demonstrates good technique in the next few moves:
33. Rb1 h4 34. Qf4 g5! I really like this move for its aesthetic quality even if it isn't necessarily that strong.
35. Qe3 Nc4 36. Qc1 Kg7 Black's pieces have complete control of the position.
37. Bd3 Ne5 38. Be4 g4 Mixing it up.
39. hxg4 Nxg4+ 40. Kg1 Qh6! A surprising and strong decision. The queen exchange seems paradoxical as Black was just launching an attack, but Guijarro correctly assesses that White's prospects in an endgame are much worse than in the middlegame, so much so that Topalov does not even try to defend!
41. Qxh6+ Kxh6 42. Kf1 Kg5 Topalov just resigned rather than endure a long torture with such a sorry bishop.

Trying to find some resources in a really bad position is one of the worst ways to suffer in chess and Topalov was clearly not in the mood.

In his final round game, Nakamura played inspired chess to create an imbalanced position and then bamboozled Edouard in the chaos:

Edouard, Romain vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
Gibraltar Masters 2017 | Caleta ENG | Round 10.3 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: E21 | 0-1
Be6 The position seems balanced, but I think Nakamura was very happy at this point. The White king is stuck in the center, which gives Black hope for an initiative.
20. h3?! Nh5! 21. Ne4
21. hxg4 Nxg3+ 22. fxg3 Ne5  )
21... Nxg3+ 22. Nxg3 Rad8! Centralizing his pieces. Black's kingside is oddly defended, but it is much more important that White's pieces are uncoordinated.
23. hxg4 Ne5 24. Be2 Bxg4 25. Bxg4 Edouard overlooks Black's next move:
25. f3! Was a better defense. The main idea is to prevent the knight jumping to g3. But these lines were probably very hard to calculate during the game. I suspect Nakamura may have planned:
25... Rd2!? And now White has to find the only move: Rc2! That should keep the position balanced. Black's idea is that after
26. fxg4 Nxg4 Black's pieces are well positioned and there is little White can do about the mate on f2.  )
25... Nxg4 26. Qc2 White's position would have been almost ok, but:
26... Bb4! And Rd2 is an unstoppable threat.
27. c5 Qa6+ 28. Kg1 Be1! Another finesse.
29. Rh3 Bxf2+ 30. Kh1 Re1+ 31. Rxe1 Bxe1 32. Nf3 Nf2+ 33. Kh2 Nxh3 34. Nxe1 Ng5 35. Qc3 Qg6

Yu’ victory over Ju was much more routine. That set up an exciting rapid tiebreaker for the top spot. In the semifinals, Nakamura took on Yu. The match was very close until the last moments of the third blitz game:

Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Yu, Yangyi
Gibraltar Masters TB | Caleta ENG | Round 1.3 | 02 Feb 2017 | ECO: A14 | 1-0
57. Bc5 Bxc5 Cool calculation by Yu, but it wasn't necessary.
57... Nd6+ Should be easy enough to hold for Black.  )
58. Nxc5+ Kc6 59. Ne6
59. Nxa6 Nd6+ 60. Kf4 Nb7! The White knight is stuck. Now Black can easily repeat moves by playing Kb6 and Kc7 if White doesn't do anything. White can try:
61. Ke4 Now Nd6+! repeats the position and is an easy draw. It is cool to see the line after
61... Kb6 62. Kd5! Kxa6 63. Ke6 Which seems dangerous for Black, although perhaps he can still draw the game.
63... Kb6 64. Kxf6 Kc6! 65. Ke6 Nd6 66. f6 Ne4 67. f7 Ng5+ 68. Kf6 Nxf7 69. Kxf7 Kd7 70. Kg7 Ke7 71. Kxh7 Kf7! With a typical setup to draw the game. The extra pawns on the queenside don't matter!  )
59... Nd6+ 60. Kf4 Nf7 61. Nf8 Nxh6 62. Nxh7 Kd5 Alas, Yu continued to do more than he needed to do. He missed that the knight could return in time to secure his queenside.
63. Nxf6+ Kc4 64. Ne4! Nf7 65. f6 Kb3 66. Nc5+ Kxa3 67. Nxa6 The knight on a6 can't be touched by the Black king. It is hard to spot such things during a game. Now White won rather easily.

Alas, the missed opportunities were too much for Yu Yangyi, and he failed to recover in the next game. Nakamura then demolished Guijarro in their second rapid tiebreaker:

Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Anton Guijarro, David
Gibraltar Masters TB | Caleta ENG | Round 2.2 | 02 Feb 2017 | ECO: E18 | 1-0
Be8 The position looks quite balanced, but from this point on, Nakamura demonstrates very, very nice technique:
25. b4 axb4 26. axb4 Nd7 27. Nc4 Black needed to be more proactive. Perhaps it was time to play exf4, though releasing the tension in the center is always a very hard decision. Guijarro continues to play normal moves:
27... Nf8 28. Na5 Rba7 29. f5! A surprising switch to kingside play. Meanwhile, Black is blocked for a while on the queenside.
29... g6 30. g4 h5 In the next few moves, there were inaccuracies on both sides, which was not surprising as it was the final stages of a tiebreak game, but I liked the way White's pieces all flowed to the kingside, while Black's pieces remained stuck.
31. Bf3 Qh7 32. Kh1 Qh6 33. Rc3 Nh7 34. fxg6 Bxg6 35. gxh5 Bxh5 36. Qf2 Bxf3+ 37. Rxf3 Kh8 38. Rg1 Ra6 39. Qf1 R6a7 40. Rh3 Very nice.
40... Qf4 41. Qe2 Rg8 42. Rxh7+ Kxh7 43. Qh5+ Qh6 44. Qxh6+ Kxh6 45. Rxg8 And it is all over.

A disappointing loss no doubt, but by tying for first, Guijarro collected more prize money this year (16,000 pounds) and he certainly had a very good result. Meanwhile, Nakamura earned 23,000 pounds.

Fabiano Caruana, Nakamura’s teammate on the team that won the gold medal at the last Chess Olympiad, had a couple of hiccups, notably a lacklustre loss against “senior” citizen and former World Championship challenger, Nigel Short of England. Caruana almost recovered after that to be contention for the top prize, but he was held to a draw by Nakamura in the penultimate round.

Ju had an exceptional event. In addition to taking home the top prize among the women (15,000 pounds), she cemented her ranking as the world’s second-best woman player by crossing the 2600 rating barrier.


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 77 in the world, he is a junior at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.